We have been learning some practical applications of Proverbs 22:6 from a great teacher of the 19th century, J. C. Ryle. Here is his sixth proposition.
VI. Train them to a habit of prayer.
Prayer is the very life breath of true religion. It is one of the first evidences that a man is born again. “Behold,” said the Lord of Saul, in the day he sent Ananias to him – “Behold he prayeth (Acts 9:11). He had begun to pray, and that was proof enough.
Prayer is the distinguishing mark of the Lord’s people in the day that there began to be a separation between them and the world. “Then began men to call upon the name of the Lord” (Gen 4:26).
Prayer is the peculiarity of all real Christians now. They pray – for they tell God their wants, their feelings, their desires, their fears. And mean what they say. The nominal Christian may repeat prayers, and good prayers, too, but he goes no further.
Prayer is the turning point in a man’s soul. Our ministry is unprofitable, and our labor is vain, till you are brought to your knees. Till then we have no hope about you.
Prayer is one great secret of spiritual prosperity. When there is much private communion with God, your soul will grow like the grass after rain – when there is little, all will be at a stand-still; you will barely keep your soul alive. Show me a growing Christian – a going forward Christian – a strong Christian – a flourishing Christian – and sure I am, he is one that speaks often with his Lord. He asks much, and he has much. He tells Jesus everything, and so he always knows how to act.
Prayer is the mightiest engine God has placed in our hands. It is the best weapon to use in every difficulty. And the surest remedy in every trouble. It is the key that unlocks the treasury of promises, and the hand that draws forth grace and help in time of need. It is the silver trumpet God commands us to sound in all our necessity, and it is the cry he has promised always to attend to, even as a loving mother to the voice of her child.
Prayer is the simplest means that man can use in coming to God. It is within reach of all; the sick, the aged, the infirm, the paralytic, the blind, the poor, the unlearned – all can pray. It avails you nothing to plead want of memory, and want of learning, and want of books, and want of scholarship in this matter. So long as you have a tongue to tell your soul’s state, you may and ought to pray. Those words, “Ye have not because ye ask not” (Jas 4:2), will be a fearful condemnation to many in the day of judgment.
Are you convinced yet? God convicted my heart even as I was typing these words. If we measured the depth of our relationship with God by our prayer life, how shallow would we be? But I digress. Here is Ryle’s application of this to training our children. Please read it carefully and apply it diligently.
Parents, if you love your children, do all that lies in your power to train them up to a habit of prayer. Show them how to begin. Tell them what to say. Encourage them to persevere. Remind them if they become careless and slack about it. Let it not be your fault, at any rate, if they never call on the name of the Lord.
This, remember, is the first step in religion which a child is able to take. Long before he can read, you can teach him to kneel by his mother’s side, and repeat the simple words of prayer and praise which she puts in his mouth. And as the first steps in any understanding are always the most important, so is the manner in which your children’s prayers are prayed a point which deserves your closest attention. Few seem to know how much depends on this. You must beware lest they get into a way of saying them in a hasty, careless, and irreverent manner. You must beware of giving up the oversight of this matter to servants and nurse [or, in our day, to teachers], or of trusting too much to your children doing it when left to themselves. I can not praise that mother who never looks after this most important part of her child’s daily life herself. [I would add here that the same is true of fathers (Eph 6:4).] Surely, if there be any habit which your own hand and eye should help in forming, it is the habit of prayer. Believe me, if you never hear your children pray yourself, you are much to blame. You are little wiser than the bird described in Job, “which leaveth her eggs in the earth, and warmeth them in the dust, and forgetteth that the foot may crush them. She is hardened against her young ones, as though they were not hers: her labor is in vain without fear” (Job 39:14-16).
Prayer is, of all habits, the one which we recollect the longest. Many a gray-headed man could tell you how his mother used to make him pray in the days of his childhood. Other things have passed away from his mind, perhaps. The church where he was taken to worship, the minister whom he heart preach, the companions who used to play with him – all these, it may be, have passed from his memory, and left no mark behind. But you will often find it is far different with his first prayers. He will often be able to tell you where he knelt, and what he was taught to say, and even how his mother looked all the while. It will come up as fresh before his mind’s eye as if it was but yesterday.
Reader, if you love your children, I charge you, do not let the seed-time of a prayerful habit pass away unimproved. If you train your children to anything, train them at least to a habit of prayer.